Audiences have marveled at the durability of race boats running at high speeds in grueling long distance marathons like Bristol, England - 24 Hours of Roean in Paris, France - Berlin, Germany - Parker 7 Hour & the Lake Havasu Classic. But, the ultimate test is in the sprint courses like Augusta & St. Louis, with their brute speed, breath taking cornering & pure agility. It can keep any spectator on "the edge of his seat." In St. Louis, ultimate performance came from the rugged horsepower of boat & driver, always pushing towards the "edge of the envelope."
During the early years, battles between private & corporate investors provided "deep pockets & skilled engineers." Racing took on a new charm, as each corporation pushed technology to "new heights." The 1st to "fall from grace" was Chrysler, strangled by the "fast pace" of Mercury & OMC. It wasn't long 'til these two "Corporate Gladiators" pounded each other, race after race!
But, it was Mercurys High Performance & dedication to racing that captured most of the latest "engine technology" - going non-stop with "testing through competition."
Two of the men that took the sport to where it is today, never took the wheel of a "modern tunnel boat." OMC's President, Charlie Strang, saw racing as a way to improve technology under the guidance of Team Manager, Jack Leek, & "Factory Sponsored Drivers" like Jimbo McConnell & Cees Van der Velden, proudly carried the Johnson-Evinrude colors.
Although OMC "spear headed" a lot of new engine products, it was fact that, Carl Kiekhaefer, President & Founder of Mercury Marine, never did anything "second class." His "non-stop desire" to beat "arch rival" OMC, led him to create the most dominating team in Outboard Racing History. Well financed & well schooled! Never has the sport seen a trio of drivers like Reggie Fountain, Billy Seebold & Earl Bents. Team Mercury, was the talk of the racing world.
"Bristol, England is probably one of the most dangerous race courses in the world, that we drive on! When you're running at 130 mph around the Bristol Docks with 10 foot walls on both sides of you, it gives you a feeling of driving through a tunnel - very fast!"
Under the management of, Gary Garbreitch, innovation came at a fast & furious pace. Fuel injection, brakes, 4 blade props - it seemed nothing was taken for granted. The idea of "no detail too small" continued into the '70's, when the "fuel crisis" slowed the world down & Mercury "pulled the plug" on its "Factory Team" - but not its interest in Outboard Racing. Win - no matter what the cost, still drives Mercury, as it still dominates the engines of Tunnel Boat Racing.
As Tunnel Boat racing approached the mid '80's, with very few events left for "2 litre competition", St. Louis was the only race that most drivers could count on until International Outboard Grand Prix (IOGP), provided stability to Outboard Tunnel Boat Racing.
" In the formative years of IOGP, I would say the first five, we spent so much of our time on what I would call, race management. Trying to find race sites - trying to find sponsors. Trying to have adequate money for the winners, writing rules & regulations & bringing the sport to a professional level. If you go to the pit area right now, you see team's half million dollar transports, 3 or 4 boats & 4 or 5 engines! It's not the sport it used to be. It has grown. The calibre of the equipment & the calibre of the drivers, certainly reflects that."
Grand Prix Racing drew the best of the best! Names like, Buck Thornton, Chris Bush, Johnathan Jones & Guido Cappolini. But, the ultimate champion of the International Circuit belonged to, Billy Seebold. Heavily sponsored by Bud Light, Bill Seebold, was Tunnel Boat Racing's, Babe Ruth!
"I've always been facinated with boats. My father raced before I raced. I started when I was 11. I've been racing for 39 years. My son Mike, started when he was 12 & he's 33 years old, so basically besides myself on the race course, he is probably the 2nd most seasoned veteran out there. Every time that "starting flag" drops, it is a new challenge. Even though you're back in Portland, St. Louis or Augusta, there's a different line up of boats, there's a different set of conditions, there's a different challenge in store & I think that's what keeps you going."
International Outboard racing took off in "high Gear" with solid backing. But what people don't know is that Southern California had finally become a "hot bed" of serious Outboard Racing talent! Some of the "biggest names & brightest stars" in the "Champ Boat Class" such as Scott Gillman, Greg Foster, Jim Johnson, Jim McKay, Don Johnson & Craig Wendt - all called California, home. With a strong dedication to the sport & a sincere desire to further it, drivers like Don Johnson, at the age of 29, had become one of the most successful tunnel boat racers in the world.
Although Scott Gillman, who ran motorcross & off-road racing for years, didn't enter the sport in quite the traditional manner, he found out quickly, that it was harder to drive, than he thought.
Down, but not out, Bill Seebold, just kept on fighting. Mike Seebold, "gave his all" to protect his dad, but it was evident that "Mr Bill" had "lost his edge" & the "talk of retirement", was more evident than ever in Portland, Oregon. Between 1990 & '93, the man that every racing driver had "relished to be", went down in flames! Even rain soaked Kansas City, couldn't keep Seebold from grabbing his 1st win in over 3 years. This seemed to "spark new life" into this 52 year old master! The "trademark" of Billy Seebold his whole career, has been to get out front quickly. Seebold takes the "short way around a race course."
We're coming "down to the wire" on Longview Lake in Kansa City. But, this is the "real story" right here. Bill Seebold hasn't won in 3 years in North America, yet he might be on his way to his 1st victory here on Longveiw Lake. Well, Bill knowing this is the last lap says to his competitors, "you have too little- too late" because the "checkered flag" is coming out for me & I'm the "happiest guy in Missori" because I have finally "ended the drought" & it's raining all over the Mid West & it's "raining checkered flags" for Seebold.
Through the 1993 season. Seebold served notice on all the "grim reapers", that Bill Seebold is back! # 7 Bill Seebold, went on to win every race after Kansas City, except Austin, Texas! Eventually winning the 1993 High Points Championship & proving to all competitors, that he could be the 1st driver to win' back to back titles!"
In 1985 it was Johnathan Jones who started it all in New Orleans. In 1986, Michael Warner, survived everyone at Padre Island. 1987, Chris Bush, held on tightly at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 1988, Don Johnson, running for Arcadian, ran hard to survive. 1989, the master himself, Bill Seebold, added another page to the history books! 1990, the talented ,Scott Gillman, showed the world he belongs. 1991, 1st rate Craig Wendt proved he was "the man to beat." 1992, the undaunted, Mike Seebold, showed he had leadership, in "Bud Light."
Will history repeat itself? Or will a "new face" emerge on the International Grand Prix Circuit, to carry that "Championship Flag!